Making the Grade

Dedicated to Charlene Czerniak, Hugh Fairchild, Friederike Alberding, Becky Clock, and Don Wafer

In college I took a creative writing class in which I wrote a poem called “The Scarlet Letter,” about my high school physics teacher who gave me the only C I received in school. Clearly I had some issues with this man. In hindsight, I don’t feel he was a bad teacher, only that he didn’t explain physics well to those who didn’t get it. The students who understood physics loved him.

But throughout my education, this teacher was one of the few who I felt didn’t care about all his students’ progress.

My teachers in the small, quaint elementary school in Northwest Ohio I attended were excellent. My fifth- and sixth-grade teachers were perhaps the two best teachers I had. My fifth-grade teacher had a unique interest in science, my least favorite subject, and was the only teacher who made it fun and interesting for me. My sixth-grade teacher taught me more about writing than any other teacher until college.

In high school, three teachers in particular stood out. My German teacher spent as much time chaperoning trips to Chicago and eventually to Germany as she did teaching. Her teaching ability and care for her students were exceptional. My journalism teacher supported my friend and me when the principal admonished us for writing a newspaper article about the excessive number of fights in the school. She taught me life and writing lessons I still use. And my tennis coach, who I never had as a science teacher, believed in me when I needed encouragement the most.

Without these mentors I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And thankfully, even though the teaching profession is more difficult than ever, my children have excellent teachers, too. My kids are in school more than six and a half hours per day, a total of 33.75 hours per week.  That is A LOT of time that someone else besides me is influencing them.

What I feel toward these individuals devoting time and patience to my children is incredible gratitude. Julia’s teacher this year is no less than outstanding.  She’s a seasoned teacher, who has been in the classroom for 35 years.  Can you imagine?  I cannot. One might sympathize a bit if she wanted to put in a little less than 100 percent, but this woman puts in 110 percent.

Mitchell, on the other hand, attends an intermediate school (grades 4-6) and has had three teachers in each grade. When leaving his smaller K-3 school to move to a school of 900 students, I worried how he would fare. Would the teachers nurture him enough or would they treat him more like a middle schooler? My concern was unfounded, because his teachers have advocated for him and created a fun learning environment.

If I wanted, I probably could homeschool. I have a graduate-level education and although I might need some assistance with science, I most likely could manage. But I would hate it and so would my kids.  They crave daily interaction with their peers, not to mention the benefit of a professional trained to teach them. Greg and I probably could also scrape by the funds to send them to a private school.

But I remain a firm believer in the value of public education. Both my parents started their careers teaching in public schools. I attended public schools and worked for a public school system for nine years.  My kids are learning to get along with a diverse group of people. They are learning to succeed and fail, which prepares them for life. They are learning that things don’t always go their way. They deal with a ridiculously long bus ride. Occasionally I drive them, but I won’t cater to them forever because life doesn’t work that way.

In this day, there is so much pressure on teachers. They constantly have to adapt to new and different teaching styles and content. The work day doesn’t end when teachers leave school, and they must stay up-to-date. Yes, they get their summers off, but once they complete what is required of them, it doesn’t amount to much time. To deal with all of this plus politics and parental complaints, teachers must truly love their job and their students.

I admire them immensely and am thankful for those who have dedicated their lives to this profession. It’s not an easy job, nor the highest paying job, but it is one of the most important.  I will be forever grateful to my teachers and to those who educate my children.

How did your teachers positively impact your life?

Alberding (2)

My German teacher, friends and I in Germany in 1993.

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